Matthieu Ricard, 70, is a Tibetan Buddhist monk originally from France who has been called “the world’s happiest man.” He has got this title from the University of Wisconsin’s neurology department after he took part in a 12-year study into meditation and compassion.
However, Ricard revealed that he finds this title ‘absurd’. “I know happier monks,” the Buddhist who can meditate for days at a time told the magazine. “I really do. It’s absurd,” he added.
After the university claimed him to be happiest man in the world the internet ran with the title. Riccard had traveled around the world giving dharma talks on the benefits and applications of meditation. But finding himself struggling to cope with the attention he asked the Dalai Lama if he could disappear into retreat. He told Ricard that the world needed his guidance. “If they want you to be the happiest man, be the happiest man,” he said.
To confirm the statement that Ricard is the happiest man on Earth, neuroscientist Richard Davidson hooked the monk up to 256 sensors as he meditated on compassion. Davidson discovered that Ricard’s brain produced a level of gamma waves – which are linked to consciousness, attention, learning and memory – never before reported in scientific literature.
“The scans also showed excessive activity in his brain’s left prefrontal cortex compared to its right counterpart, allowing him an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity,” Davidson wrote at the time.
Ricard’s photographs of the spiritual masters, the landscape, and the people of the Himalays have appeared in numerous books and magazines. He is the author and photographer of Tibet, An Inner Journey and Monk Dancers of Tibet and, in collaboration, the photobooks Buddhist Himalayas, Journey to Enlightenment and Motionless Journey: From a Hermitage in the Himalayas. He is the translator of numerous Buddhist texts, including The Life of Shabkar.
When Ricard was asked how others can achieve happiness, he said that positive thinking is the key. Ricard points out the infinity that is your mind. There is unlimited potential for both productive and unproductive thoughts. For instance, your mind has the tendency to focus on the negative or unchangeable aspects of your life. These elements are troubling and always effecting us and our plans in ways we’d rather it not. The brain will fatigue or injure itself in trying to sort them out. There is nothing to sort out though, something that is beyond our control is beyond our control so that energy would be better spent elsewhere.
Training the mind by thinking happy thoughts continuously for 15 minutes a day also helps. Science backs his ideas, as Richard Davidson’s study showed that 20 minutes of meditation can make a person feel happier.
Ricard donates all proceeds of his books to 110 humanitarian projects which have built schools for 21,000 children and provide healthcare for 100,000 patients a year. He was awarded the French National Order of Merit for his work in preserving Himalayan culture but it is his work on the science of happiness which perhaps defines him best.